I stood in a check-out line the other day behind a college student who was stocking his pantry for the fall semester and had a flash of deja vu as I surveyed the contents of his shopping cart. If this young man was representative of his kind, the American college student's very sustenance still owes plenty to the carbohydrate whollop packed in an envelope of ramen noodles.
The tradition endures.
I had never eaten ramen noodles until I went to college in California, some 25 years ago. This dates me to the Hot Plate Age, in prehistoric premicrowave times, when Top Ramen was 12 packets for a dollar even when not on sale and we boiled it in dented camping cookware from the Army-Navy surplus store in Oakland.
In the olden days ramen appeared in mainstream supermarkets in just three flavors -- chicken, beef and fish. This fact alone probably makes my generation seem somehow less evolved but those were primitive times. We were, after all, still playing our music on vinyl then.
Today a package of brand-name ramen costs 39 cents. There are several brands competing for the student food budget in Lawrence supermarkets and the selection of flavors is dizzying to a fossil like me. There's chili, tomato, chicken with mushrooms and even a creamy chicken.
There's also a ramen culture on the Internet. Several sites serve as clearinghouses for student recipes and the postings there show evidence of a greater creativity than my friends and I exhibited when we tossed a few veggies into noodle broth and called it good. The best sites I found are www.mattfischer.com/ramen and Bianca's Ramen RomperRoom at www.bianca.com/shack/kitchen/ramen.
You can see the college student mind at work in these recipes, whose ingredients include pilfered condiments from fast-food restaurants and whose cooking instructions are anything but precise. What impressed me, though, were the number of ramen recipes that were nutritionally balanced, more or less.
Here's a sampling:
Mexican Chili-Cheese Ramen
3 to 4 packs ramen without flavor packages
1 can Hormel chili
20 packs Taco Bell hot sauce
Mix ramen, chili, cheese and peppers and microwave. Then add sauce. Says the cook: "This should last one hungry college guy a couple of days or feed an entire dorm room for a night."
Orange Ramen Pancakes
Grate some carrots. Boil noodles till soft. Put the two in the same bowl and kinda mix them together. Grate cheese. You need more cheese than ramen and carrots. Fry in butter.
Cheesy Ramen Bake
1 package ramen
1 or 2 chicken flavor packets
1 handful Bacos
1 slice American cheese
Preheat oven to broil. Add flavor packets and noodles to water and boil up the noodles. A cautionary note: "Be careful not to destroy the perfect cube-like shape (of the noodles). "" When noodles start to soften, throw in a beaten egg. Once the egg has coagulated, scoop out cube with spatula. Quickly cover noodle-egg cube with a slice of American cheese, place Bacos on top. Place on a cookie sheet under broiler until cheese melts.
-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.